With Super Bowl LVIII, Las Vegas Is in the Game Now
Author: Ira Boudway, Kim Bhasin, Randall Williams, Giles Turner, and Felix Gillette
February 11, 2024 at 07:39
The city gets sporty. Plus: It’s Pat McAfee’s time at ESPN, and investing in the NFL
Welcome to a special edition of Bw Daily! Today we’re talking the business of football. America’s biggest sporting event—Super Bowl LVIII—has landed in the glitzy gambling capital of Las Vegas. The city wants you to know it isn’t just casinos and excess but a real sports town, too. Also in this edition: Pat McAfee’s rise to become the face of the new NFL and the league’s old billionaire problem.
For decades, the major US sports leagues shunned Nevada’s most populous city, despite its status as a tourism epicenter. Gambling was taboo, especially after a referee betting scandal in the mid-2000s. And no place on earth embodied that unsavoriness more than Sin City.
“You go back 10 years and we couldn’t say the words ‘Super Bowl,’” says Sean McBurney, regional president at Caesars Entertainment Inc., which owns eight resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. “How sports has embraced Las Vegas has changed dramatically.”
As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to square off against the Kansas City Chiefs, players and fans will find a very changed city. Over the past eight years, Las Vegas has been busy collecting sports franchises—first the Golden Knights of the NHL, then the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and the Aces of the WNBA. In November 2023, MLB’s owners unanimously approved the move of the Oakland Athletics to the valley.
Nearly $7 billion has been committed to turning Las Vegas into a global sports capital in recent years, with investors pumping money into new arenas and stadiums and negotiating deals with leagues. It’s a process that calls to mind the mass migration of franchises to Southern California cities in the 1950s and ’60s.
Some of the city’s biggest advocates are the celebrities and athletes who live and party in Vegas. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady purchased a stake in the Aces and is looking to own a portion of the Raiders; retired baseball star José Bautista bought a minor league soccer team, the Las Vegas Lights. NBA superstar LeBron James, an equity partner of Boston Red Sox owner Fenway Sports Group, has been vocal about owning an NBA expansion team in the city. “They have everything here,” he said in December after the league’s inaugural In-Season tournament in Las Vegas.
But for some Las Vegas locals, living in a sports boomtown has been something of a mixed bag. The Strip and its surroundings have been covered in construction sites, tangling roadways and annoying residents and visitors alike. But bottom line, Sin City’s latest reinvention would have been impossible if America didn’t suddenly become cool with sports gambling.
Every big free agent acquisition is an acknowledgement by the franchise of its vulnerability in the seasons to come and the dire need to improve at a key position fast. ESPN’s signing of Pat McAfee was no different.
The network needs to attract younger viewers, master the streaming world—and conquer sports betting. McAfee, in his signature jeans and tank top, delivering commentary from a rec room set in Indianapolis is one of the ESPN’s best bets.
“Bringing in McAfee allows them to get younger fast,” Patrick Keane, the former CEO of Action Network, says. “It allows them to go direct to fans. And McAfee has a unique voice into an audience that cares a lot about sports betting, which is the new revenue frontier.”
That growth has helped make NFL team owners rich—really rich. But it has also created succession-planning challenges in a league that venerates family and tradition. Basically: Team owners are getting older and the teams are worth so much (sometimes upwards of $4 billion), they’re too expensive to pass on to heirs.
In September, the NFL formed a special committee of five owners to consider ending a block on private equity funds. The US’s other top sports leagues have already lowered the gates for such investors, but the country’s most popular one has remained a holdout. So what would the investment ownership model in the NFL look like?
$9,815 That’s how much tickets cost to attend the Super Bowl in Las Vegas—a rematch between the 2020 contenders. It’s the most expensive ever for the event.
They’re the Problem
“There are no states that have approved bets related to Taylor Swift for the Super Bowl. If you’re seeing a website offering them, it’s an illegal offshore website that is not overseen by any US regulator.”
Spokesperson for the American Gaming Association
Chances are you’ve seen offers to bet on how many times Taylor Swift will be shown during the Super Bowl. Bad news: They’re not regulated.
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